Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Women's Resistance - The Theory and the Practice

In preparation for tomorrow's International Women's Day, and global women's strike, I am posting three articles here.  The first, from the Verso site, is an interview with Judith Butler, maybe the pre-eminent radical philosopher now active in the Anglophone world.   I've written about Butler several times already - in celebration of her winning of the Adorno Prize and the unholy flak she faced when she did so, as a brave anti-Zionist Jewish intellectual, in particular.   But while I began reading Butler properly only in the last decade, when she wrote increasingly about Palestine and the Middle East, it must immediately be admitted that her career extends at least another decade further back, to Subjects of Desire (1987), her study of French Hegelianism, and then to Gender Trouble (1990), her groundbreaking and career-making account of gendered identity not as an essence or mere biology, but as a constantly reiterated performative function.  This problematic has not fallen away from Butler's thinking since those early books, and in this interview, which was made by Jean-Philippe Cazier to honour the publication of a French translation of her book Notes Toward A Performative Theory of Assembly and first appeared at the Diacritik site, we find her re-thinking the nature of demonstration and public politics in performative terms.

The second and third articles on on notable examples of women's struggle in two widely separated parts of the world, Argentina and Palestine.  In each region, women's battles grow out of particular or local difficulties, but, via protest and representation, will achieve global resonances tomorrow.  The article on women in Argentina comes from Jacobin; that on women and the fight for Palestinian rights and independence comes from ElectronicIntifada.

First, Butler and Cazier:

Acting in Concert: a conversation with Judith Butler



Next, Veronica Gago and Augustina Santomaso on the situation in Argentina:

Argentina’s Life-or-Death Women’s Movement



Lastly, Sofia Arias and Bill Mullen on Palestinian women:

ON 8 MARCH, STAND WITH WOMEN OF PALESTINE


Conor

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Global Women's Strike - Mass Protest on International Women's Day, March 8, 2017

Next Wednesday, International Women's Day, in over 40 countries women will march in protest, agitating for reproductive rights, and against violence in the economic, domestic and institutional spheres.  In Ireland, the particular focus for the strikers will be the campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, which disgracefully equates the right to life of a foetus to that of the woman who bears it.

To mark this great event of mass protest and agitation, I am posting an article on the strike, from Jacobin, and also the LRB spring lecture by Professor Mary Beard, the brilliant English classicist based at Cambridge, which is on 'Women in Power'.  First, on the strike - Cinzia Arruzza and Tithi Bhattacharya explain its meaning

What the Women’s Strike Means


And then Mary Beard, from the London Review of Books website:



Conor

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Power, Alienation and Truth - Chaplin and Chomsky

Here are two excellent essays from the Jacobin site, just to cheer up your weekend.   Firstly, a wonderful discussion by Owen Hatherly of Charlie Chaplin, and the early admiration of him and his politics by the Russian revolutionary film industry.  Hatherly's work will be familiar to many readers of the Guardian, the New Statesman, and the London Review of Books.   Here he reveals the contradictory and at times strange effects of the love of Chaplin displayed by film-makers such as Kuleshov, Barnet and Pudovkin, where pro-Bolshevism is wedded to the industrial-technocratic values of Taylorism and Fordism.   This movement received the intellectual reinforcement of the great literary critic and theorist of literature as alienated language, Viktor Shklovsky, who saw in Chaplin's jerky movements a version of the actions of the industrial worker.

Charlie Chaplin in Moscow 



Moving from Shklovskian 'ostranienie' to a different form of alienation, Daniel Geary, a historian working at Trinity College Dublin, marks the fiftieth anniversary of Noam Chomsky's great essay 'The Responsibility of Intellectuals', first published in the New York Review of Books in 1967, at the height of America's war in Vietnam.  Chomsky's essay, which would receive an even more formidable iteration in 1977 in his Huizinga Lecture, 'Intellectuals and the State', took the world of American policy-formulation as its subject and turned it inside-out, in the manner of all great critics: he presented American liberals with a radically alienated vision of the intellectual scene with which they had thought they were so familiar.  This essay was essentially a manifesto for the extraordinary work of dissent which he has led ever since, and which he has always believed was open to any ordinary person endowed with some curiosity and a moral imagination.  'The Responsibility of Intellectuals' is reprinted in American Power and the New Mandarins, also published in 1967, Chomsky's first openly political book, and also the place where you'll find 'Objectivity and Liberal Scholarship', an overwhelming indictment of mainstream American social science and its complicity with the war in Indochina.  'Intellectuals and the State' is collected in another superb volume, published early in the Reagan era, Towards a New Cold War.  Chomsky is not infallible, as Geary points out, but what a bracing example he offers to us all, as he nears his ninetieth year.  Here is Chomsky's article, and then Geary's re-reading of it:


A Special Supplement: The Responsibility of Intellectuals



Truth to Power


Conor

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Performing the Revolution - Tariq Ali on the Communist Manifesto

Yesterday - I should have written about this before enthusing about WJT Mitchell and Robert Darnton - was the 169th anniversary of the publication of Marx and Engels' Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848), probably the greatest and most influential political pamphlet ever written.   Like the Proclamation of the Irish Republic of 1916, the Manifesto is a tremendous piece of performative writing (in JL Austin's famous phrase) - its being read brings into existence that to which it refers, it does things, it makes things happen (in this case, on the most epic of scales), and this goes a long way to explaining its enduring power and haunting effect.

Here is Tariq Ali - commentator, film-maker, street-fighter - on the Manifesto - from the Verso website:


Tariq Ali: Introduction to The Communist Manifesto


Conor

American Psychosis and the Yellow Press - WJT Mitchell and Robert Darnton after Trump's First Thirty Days

Critical Inquiry is one of the finest, most stylish and most important literary/cultural critical journals in the English-speaking world - here's its website: Critical Inquiry - Official Site  Published out of the University of Chicago, it's long been edited by Bill Mitchell, himself a brilliant critic of both literary and visual culture.  Here he is, writing in the Los Angeles Review of Books, in an essay which was originally given as a lecture at the University of Geneva, just before Trump's inauguration:

American Psychosis: Trumpism and the Nightmare of History

I first discovered Robert Darnton, one of America's great cultural historians and a major scholar of eighteenth century France, through his wonderful collection of essays, The Great Cat Massacre (1984), and then his classic study of The Forbidden Bestsellers of Pre-Revolutionary France (1995).  This book, which builds on Darnton's earlier study, The Literary Underground of the Old Regime (1982), is a superb account of the chapbook and pamphlet literature of the streets, which - by way of satire, polemic, pornography, and critique - helped to undermine the Bourbon monarchy.  Long on the staff at Princeton, Darnton now is University Professor and Director of the University Library at Harvard.   Here is Darnton's personal website, which contains online or pdf versions of many of his essays and reviews: Home | Robert Darnton  And here he writes about the history of the late nineteenth century 'yellow press', a notorious earlier instance of the creation of 'fake news' and 'alternative facts' - an essay from the New York Review of Books:



The True History of Fake News


Conor

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Armed Insurrection - James Connolly and the European Context

Of all the leaders of the Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916, James Connolly, the great labour leader and agitator, was the only one with military experience.  It was, after all, as an underage recruit to the British Army that Connolly first came to Ireland.   But it's also worth remembering that later in life, during the First World War, and as the pressure for an Irish uprising grew ever stronger, Connolly wrote extensively on insurrectionary history and techniques, preparing the way for the struggle to come.

As WK Anderson pointed out in his excellent James Connolly and the Irish Left (1994), Connolly's principal self-identification was as a revolutionary, and all he did was contributory to that goal and purpose.  He was not a militarist, and he was sceptical of the 'physical force tradition' in Irish republicanism.  But Connolly was no pacifist, either, and recourse to force was always one of the options at the disposal of the revolution as far as he was concerned.  

The interest in armed doctrine and ideas in Connolly is mirrored in the geo-tactical ideas of his great Italian contemporary Gramsci, whose thought - as Edward Said noted many years ago - is suffused with the metaphors of military action: territories, blocs, mutual siege, civil conquest, war of manoeuvre and war of position.   I am posting here links to Connolly's essays on earlier uprisings, side by side with an essay on Armed Insurrection, 'a work of illegal propaganda written by a collective of Comintern military and political specialists', including Ho Chi Minh and Palmiro Togliatti, and now reissued by Verso: 

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Remembering Red Vienna

In January, I was fortunate enough to visit Vienna - to my shame, this was only my first visit to a German-speaking country and city.  I spent five days walking the city - visiting the Hundertwasser apartment building and museum, taking the tram back and forth on the Ringstrasse, absorbing the decadence of Klimt and Schiele at the Belvedere.  I also went out to the Zentralfriedhof, where, on an icy afternoon, I could wander quietly among the graves of great composers - Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, Gluck and a whole dynasty of Strausses - and see how Austrians remember their presidents, including Kurt Waldheim.  The massive graveyard embodies formidable historical lessons for a callow denizen of the western islands of Europe - there is a large plot and commemorative apparatus of statues, walls, and gardens for the Red Army, which liberated Vienna in 1945, and there are two large Jewish plots, one of more recent vintage, the other older, with graves going back at least to the nineteenth century.  I spent some time wandering the near-wilderness of the latter, picking my way among headstones still tilted or smashed from Nazi-era vandalism.  Walking the perimeter of this section, which contains the graves of various Rothschilds and of Arthur Schnitzler, I paused silently to look down one of the many tree-lined corridors - a deer stood looking at me, vulnerable and beautiful.

I should have been reading Musil, and learning from Carl Schorske's classic study, Fin-de-Siecle Vienna, but my satchel held other books.  One can't always co-ordinate one's reading with one's location.  But in this often immaculately-preserved city, with its wonderfully efficient public transport and overwhelming imperial architectural and cultural legacy, it is hard not to be forced to think historically just as one trudges the streets.  Even as I note that Vienna was the birthplace of both Adolf Hitler and Theodor Herzl, and is now home to an increasingly right-leaning political culture, it's good to be reminded that the political dispensation has not always been conservative.  Here is an essay, taken from the Jacobin website but originally published in German at LuxEmburg, which shows the other side of the story: 



Conor